It triggered a scathing response from Mark Gardner, Communications Director of the CST, which I’m reproducing in full here:
There are a number of problems with this article, some of which derive from the author being over-reliant on sketchy newspaper reports, some of which derive from the author only knowing one part of a fairly complex story, and some of which derive from the author’s own motivation in turning this into a political argument: whilst accusing others of doing precisely that.
To begin, Tony Lerman fails to mention his own relations with GJEF. Given how much innuendo the article contains, and his commitment to truth seeking, this is odd.
The part of my speech that Tony Lerman quotes from (and then builds insinuations from) was given in reply to a question asking how Scotland compared with the rest of the UK re antisemitism.
I said that last year’s statistics showed a three fold increase in incidents and said that whether you thought it was a big deal or not, it was still obviously a considerable percentage increase – and that if you or your children were one of the very small number of people who had suffered then you might believe it to be something of importance.
I said that statistically the incidents were little different per head of population to other parts of the UK, but pointed out that Scotland had relatively few people who were visibly Jewish. (And who suffer a disproportionate number of antisemitic attacks as a consequence.)
I praised the efforts of the SNP to build an inclusive nationalism and stressed the sincerity that they had shown in all of the dealings that I have had with them. I noted the positivity of Scotland’s self-image as being a tolerant country, but said that since moving from Glasgow to London I had come to appreciate that there is a very real difference between multiculturalism and tolerance, which implies a willingness to put up with something.
I stressed that the vast majority of Glasgow’s Jews are not visibly Jewish, and lead a comfy enough existence in largely white middle class neighbourhoods where street thuggery, street crime, gangs, racism and antisemitism were very rare. I noted that many of them would drive to work in their cars and did not have to use public transport.
I then said that antisemitism, like any racism, impacts against the more vulnerable sections of the community – schoolchildren who wear kippot on their heads and use public transport; people who are literally the only Jew in the village, or on the council estate etc.
I noted that these were the people who had felt vulnerable and isolated and had consequently turned to SCOJEC expressing alarm at the atmosphere they perceived during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last year. I said that I was proud to work with SCOJEC in representing these people’s concerns to Scottish Govt, Police and others, so that they did not feel alone and so that strategies could be developed to prevent things getting any worse.
In any other context, I suspect that Guardian readers would be horrified to read an article such as Tony Lerman’s: an article that basically mocks people’s fears about racism (eg his line about Holocaust deniers on the Mull of Kintyre, which carries far more strength than his emotion free mantra “any incidents are to be deplored”.)
The frightened contacts to SCOJEC and CST from Scottish victims of antisemitism last year were not figments of our imagination. What do you want us to do? Tell these people to stop being such Zionists, to go put a kilt on, eat a black pudding, drink some Irn Bru, buy a house in Whitecraigs, and then everything will be ok?
Given Tony Lerman’s own background in Jewish research work, his disdain for SCOJEC’s efforts to work out what exactly is going on is very curious indeed. The representatives of the victims, ie SCOJEC, have tried to engage Govt and Police, to have them research the truth of what exactly is going on, so that we can all see what the problem is, and what could be done about it.
Surely this research would help put an end to the politicising of the issue? Surely this research would show if this is, or is not, about SCOJEC cementing its position as you allege? Surely this research would prove whether or not this is about “demonising pro-Palestinian activism” as your closing sentence alleges?
Instead, Tony Lerman implies that this is opportunistic politicking by SCOJEC, and reveals his own political stripes by summarising it (and thereby trashing it) all as “demonising pro-Palestinian activism”.
Despite all of the above, I do actually sincerely believe that Tony Lerman’s primary concern is indeed Jewish community renewal – which makes me even more staggered by his rubbishing of SCOJEC’ s attempts to work with Scottish Govt to get to the bottom of it all; and makes his failure to mention his own relations with SCOJEC’s detractors at GJEF all the more important in the context of this article.
Another great Tony Lerman moment.